Over on MiLB.com you can read my round-up of the 2014-15 Minor League re-branding season, featuring 11 new team names and/or logos. In conjunction with this, my latest journalistic masterwork, I decided to take a look around the Minor League landscape in order to subjectively determine the team from each league that is most in need of a makeover.
We’ll start at the top of the Minor League ladder and work our way down. Perhaps, come this time next year, some of these clubs will have opted to update their iconography. Whether you agree, disagree or couldn’t care less, feel free to tell me so in the comments or on Twitter (@bensbiz).
International League: Louisville Bats (current logo in use since 2002)
This logo is a little too reminiscent of Batman, so maybe it’s time that Louisville Gotham selves another one.
Pacific Coast League: Fresno Grizzlies (current logo in use since 2008)
The Grizzlies are actively embracing their post-San Francisco identity, but the orange and black color scheme still screams “Giants affiliation!”
Eastern League: Portland Sea Dogs (current logo in use since 2003)
Southern League: Mississippi Braves (current logo in use since 2005)
Texas League: Midland RockHounds (current logo in use since 1999)
California League: High Desert Mavericks (current logo in use since 1991)
Carolina League: Carolina Mudcats (current logo in use since 1991)
Florida State League: Tampa Yankees (current logo in use since 1994)
Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts (current logo in use since 1996)
As was pointed out to me when I visited Lansing: That’s not a lugnut. It’s a bolt.
South Atlantic League: Kannapolis Intimidators (current logo in use since 2001)
New York-Penn League: Brooklyn Cyclones (current logo in use since 2001)
The Cyclones seem to do everything right, so I may as well give them a hard time for not updating the logo they came into existence with.
Northwest League: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (current logo in use since 1997)
Appalachian League: Johnson City Cardinals (current logo in use since 1995)
Pioneer League: Helena Brewers (current logo in use since 2011)
In closing, I’d like to offer a tip of the cap to Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net. It’s a great source of info.
It’s been a busy week here at MiLB.com HQ, at least by February standards. We had a stadium groundbreaking on Tuesday, a logo unveiling on Wednesday, and today marked the appearance of my feature story chronicling the Potomac Nationals’ attempt to privately finance construction of their new ballpark.
Through it all, I was surrounded by wispy strands of Minor League Baseball ephemera. I always am. What follows is my attempt to compile these recently appearing items into something resembling coherence. Wish me luck.
Remember last April when I wrote an article detailing the various team-branded beers that can be found across the Minor League landscape? No? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Kane County Cougars are the latest team to throw their stein into the brewing game:
— Kane County Cougars (@KCCougars) February 19, 2015
So, yeah, fans can vote on what the beer should be named. Two of the choices are rather generic and more or less interchangeable; the other choice is not. If that option wins, then expect plenty of jokes like this to follow:
— D.J. Eaton (@deeej15) February 19, 2015
I’ve written several times in the past about the Holiday League, a theoretical professional baseball circuit featuring, yes, holiday-themed teams. The project, overseen by designer John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio Works, unveiled its latest entity this week: The Bourbonville Krewe.
This entity, unbeknownst to most, has been in existence for 40 years. From the press release:
In a carnival atmosphere full of masked performers and festooned floats at Flambeaux Field, the Bourbonville Krewe unveiled a special fortieth anniversary logo and announced plans to celebrate the milestone throughout the coming season. “We’re gonna have ourselves one season-long party,” Owner Rex Proteus proclaimed. “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”
A parade of former players was on hand for the kick-off event, including the legendary Balthazar “Babycakes” Gateaux. The Krewe’s all-time home run leader, Gateaux entertained the throng of gathered fans with a wild reenactment of the day in 1983 when he walloped three round-trippers, then wrestled a gator that had crawled into right field.
There are 160 affiliated Minor League teams, only two of which have crossed threshold of 100,000 Facebook likes. Those teams are the Toledo Mud Hens and El Paso Chihuahuas, and now the San Jose Giants are gunning to be the third:
[W]e are hosting a 100,000 Likes Promotion. Share photos with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat showing your favorite memories and orange and black pride, using #SJG100K to enter. One lucky fan will walk away with the biggest prize in the organization’s history[.]
I’m hoping that it is, literally, the biggest prize in the organization’s history. Like, a topiary maze in the shape of the team’s logo or something of that nature.
Last season, I visited the Midland RockHounds home of Security Bank Ballpark. One of the highlights of that visit was seeing the team’s concourse train take laps around the stadium. In 2015, the team is adding another concourse attraction.
— Joe Peters (@ShoelessJoe12) February 19, 2015
Peters later informed me, that, due to “safety reasons,” the concourse train would not drive straight through the fountains. Oh, well. A man can dream.
Speaking of dreams, one of mine has finally come true. Enigmatic Wisconsin Timber Rattlers announcer Chris Mehring has appeared as a guest on the latest episode of “Between Two Berms.” Mehring can out-deadpan anyone, even host Sam Merle.
And that’s all I’ve got. Thank you for your support, be it continued, sporadic, or barely discernible.
This week I have been aware of a distinct shift in the tone and tenor of the national Minor League Baseball conversation. Valentine’s Day promos and borderline insane snow-related ticket deals are on the way out, as the primary focus is now on the 2015 season that soon will be. Promotion schedules are being released at a rapid clip, and as a result Opening Day know feels like a tangible thing as opposed to a vague abstraction.
What I’m trying to say here, as always, is that I have a bunch of random new Minor League promos to share with you. So share them, I will:
My prediction is that, by the end of 2015, we’ll be so sick of 30th anniversary Back to the Future celebrations that a future pop culture Terminator will go back in time in order to insure that the movie doesn’t get made at all. But for now, let’s celebrate this rising promotional trend. The Biscuits will be wearing these theme jerseys on June 27, for example:
— Montgomery Biscuits (@BiscuitBaseball) February 6, 2015
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Knights will have a Delorean on the premises.
While currently lacking a distinct visual to go along with it, the Bowie Baysox announced that, on July 19, they will be giving away a Babe Ruth bobblehead in which he is wearing the uniform of the 1914 (Minor League) Baltimore Orioles. This is, in a word, great.
(As for that “Touch a Truck” event, my hope is that the Baysox release a promotional “trailer.” For far more truck puns, courtesy of myself and several Minor League broadcasters, go HERE.)
Also lacking a distinct visual, but also great, is this August 6 eggs-travaganza in Toledo:
Bacon & Eggs Night
Fans will have a sizzlin’ good time at the first ever ‘Bacon and Eggs Night’ at Fifth Third Field. Things will heat up when the Hens take the field wearing egg-themed jerseys and hats against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who will be wearing their popular bacon-themed jerseys.
Thanks to a “last-minute” recruiting day commitment, the Bowling Green Hot Rods are pleased to announce that Ickey Woods will be visiting the ballpark on August 15. Per the team:
Woods will sign autographs, mingle with fans, and showcase his signature celebration….His appearance will be joined by specials on cold cuts, and Woods will lead Bowling Green Ballpark in an attempt to break the record for the most “Ickey Shuffles” done simultaneously in one location.
The Sacramento River Cats are capitalizing on on our nation’s apparently insatiable appetite for ’90s pop culture nostalgia via this “Legends of the Hidden Temple” theme jersey:
If the mere mention of the Shrine of the Silver Monkey brings up intense emotion, our ’90s Night jersey is for you. pic.twitter.com/au5UzLIrM8
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 6, 2015
Speaking of ’90s nostalgia, you probably heard about this one already. The Brooklyn Cyclones are staging “Saved By the Bell Night” on June 24:
You’ll have to use your imagination for now, but the Richmond Flying Squirrels are giving away Joe Panik “Panik Buttons” on July 21.
Star Wars promotions have become an epidemic throughout Minor League Baseball. The Buffalo Bisons, one of many teams to tie a theme jersey into the evening’s attractions, will be wearing “Jedi Robes” on July 18.
In what is certainly one of the cruder promotions of the year, the Midland RockHounds are wearing these black gold-splattered duds during August’s “Oil Field Weekend.”
(For what it’s worth, I am a much bigger fan of locally-oriented theme jerseys such as that shown above. Pop culture jerseys have their place, but as a general rule I believe that clubs should give precedence to that which highlights the uniqueness of their own community. And, certainly, Midland is a unique baseball market.)
Finally, we have the Lakewood BlueClaws. On May 22, two days after David Letterman signs off from the airwaves, the team is staging a promotion in honor of the iconic late night host. If you’re wondering why they would do such a thing, then simply consult the BlueClaws’ Top 10 List.
This post represents a mere smattering (is there any other type of smattering?) of the notable promotions that will be staged in 2015. Stay tuned, as there will be (too) much more where this comes from.
Can Minor League Baseball be stopped? No, it cannot be stopped.
On this trip, my travel schedule was pretty grueling: ballpark, write, sleep, drive, repeat. Texas-sized travel itineraries didn’t leave any time for idle explorations.
Therefore, upon arriving at Midland’s Sleep Inn, I was relieved to see that the RockHounds’ home — Security Bank Ballpark — was right across the street. No more driving for me that evening, from there on out I was gonna be a walking man!
So walk I did. Over the course of this arduous five-minute journey, I noticed that Security Bank Ballpark is located adjacent to another facility.
In true Texas fashion, this is a high school football stadium (the town of Odessa, where Friday Night Lights took place, is next to Midland). It hosts two local teams, and was built at the same time as the RockHounds stadium.
But on this overcast and windy evening, the only game in town was Minor League Baseball.
Midland RockHounds Minor League Baseball.
Built in 2002, Security Bank Ballpark is a pleasant and serviceable albeit rather generic facility. A bit later in the evening I posted the following tweet, and responses ranged from Arizona Spring Training facilities to Gwinnett County, Georgia to Colorado Springs. Given its lack of distinctive design elements and its location in a rather barren (but growing) part of town, this is one of the more anonymous facilities in Minor League Baseball.
Where am I? pic.twitter.com/46NsWbWUzX
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 2, 2014
But Security Bank Ballpark has accomplished everything it needed to and then some. It easily meets professional standards, provides the front office with plenty of room in which to create new entertainment features and group areas, and is on the verge of being paid off some 14 years ahead of schedule (more on that, and Midland’s currently booming oil-based economy in general, can be found in this MiLB.com piece).
And did you know that a “RockHound” is a slang word for a geologist (usually of the amateur variety)? Since they’re the RockHounds and all, the team has its own lucky rock located outside of the stadium.
(Did you hear the one about the foul-smelling RockHound? He ran out of geoderant.)
I touched the rock on the way in, and, for the record, I have had nothing but fun and good times since then. I water-skied to work this morning.
Soon after arriving at the stadium I met with RockHounds assistant general manager Greg Berman, and we took a lap of the facility. This batting cage just opened this season, and, in addition to being used by the players for their batting cage needs, it is also used for ballpark events such as autograph sessions.
Beyond that is the weight room, which I would deem fair to Midland.
At one point during our wanderings I was able to snap this candid shot of Rocky RockHound in conversation with Juice the Moose. Is it just me, or does Rocky look like he has a face on the back of his head? I was told that they were simply spots.
Here we are at the ProPetro Diamond Club, open to season ticket and suite holders. No hoi polloi allowed.
If you don’t have a season ticket or a suite, you can walk up to these friendly folks and buy a ticket.
And if it’s a Thursday, the first order of business is for of-age fans to prove that they are of age. You can’t quench your booze thirst without a wristband!
At this point Bergman had left in order to perform his actual job duties, and I commenced to solo wandering.
The Coors Light Playground?
If you are walking on the concourse, you should, oh, I don’t know: WATCH FOR FOUL BALLS.
A new addition to the stadium this season is this concourse train.
This ain’t no sedentary train, either.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 2, 2014
If you want sedentary, then head on over to the Rocky Town Tavern.
I don’t drink on the job (much), but I was definitely planning on eating a meal. I didn’t have a designated eater at this particular stop (as in, an individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits), so I just wandered around and pondered my options.
This stand had walking tacos and Frito pie, among other delicacies that I can no longer discern.
And this place had a whole bunch of stuff. If only I had written down what!
Eating gluten-free at a ballpark can be tough. I had a craving for some nachos, which are sometimes gluten-free and sometimes not. I therefore commenced to crack the case of “Are the Midland RockHounds nachos gluten free?”
A cardboard box on a cart next to the concession kiosk listed the ingredients of the chips, which did turn out to be gluten-free. Then I noticed the cheese was from Ortega, and internet research revealed that their nacho cheese is gluten-free.
So I took the plunge and ordered up some chicken macho na–
TRAIN COMING THROUGH
Here’s something you don’t see every day, a trio of Tabasco dispensers.
I ate my nachos as the sun went down on Midland. That’s not just the name of an iconic country song; for a couple of minutes it was my reality.
Still visible, to my immediate left, was the gargantuan high school football stadium mentinoed before. This facility is run by the RockHounds staff and also hosts the Midland/Odessa Sockers of the USL Premier Development League.
I don’t have a video clip, but let it be known that RockHounds third baseman Miles Head uses Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” as his walk-up song. That’s a rather fatalistic outlook for a 23-year-old, but also an apt metaphor for life in the Minors (in which “God” = “Baseball”). That song applies to all of us, really. We’re all gonna get knocked down, hoi polloi and former presidents alike.
Speaking of which: While 21 of the RockHounds’ 22 suites are named after baseball players, this one is named after prez-turned-painter George W. Bush.
My wanderings, they bring me everywhere, and in this particular instance they brought me to the concourse area near the right field foul pole. One dude with a fake beard and a bazooka and one kid attempting to don a fake beard were on their way to shoot hot dogs at the crowd with said bazooka.
Next, I visited RockHounds groundskeeper Eric Campbell in his groundskeeping lair. Our resulting conversation became the basis of an entertaining MiLB.com article that touched on dust, fire, tarantulas, and owl vomit.
After bidding adieu to Campbell and crew, I came upon Rocky and Juice riding a bicycle together. Juice fell off.
Throughout the evening, I had tried to capture the frightening sound effects that are played over the loudspeaker every time a visiting batter strikes out. Finally, in the ninth inning, I nailed it. The more you listen to this Vine, the better it gets.
Post-strikeout sound effects, take 2 https://t.co/R2futPNDta
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 2, 2014
And, hey, look, the home team won! (The visiting team was Corpus Christi, for the record.)
I haven’t been doing #cupdates much on this trip, but I came across this collectible item among the post-game detritus.
Post-game launch-a-ball! Every team does it a little bit differently; in Midland the primary target is a car on the pitcher’s mound.
And that’ll do it from Midland. I hope that RockHounds were satisfied with my reportage, both here and on MiLB.com. If not, I’m sure I’ll hear about it via the issuance of a scathing press release.
Of far greater import was the discovery, during a routine Google search, of a press release attacking my skill and integrity as a journalist. That the release was written a month and a half ago is beside the point, what matters is that it exists and I now have something entertaining to write about this afternoon.
On September 19, the day after losing the Texas League Championship, the Midland RockHounds issued forth a missive entitled “Benjamin Hill Was Wrong.”
Their beef seems to stem from a single paragraph in my TL Championship preview, in which I wrote: “… the RockHounds went 35-35 in both halves and made it to the playoffs by virtue of playing in the league’s thoroughly lackluster South Division.”
But hell hath no fury like a RockHound very mildly scorned. Let’s go to the invective:
Either Mr. Hill was absent during “research week” in school (sir, the word “thoroughly” in your so-called “preview” constitutes an editorial) or his research is, itself, “thoroughly lackluster.”
First, Mr. Hill completely overlooked the fact that the North included Arkansas, the second worst team in all of Minor League Baseball (gee, Ben, think THAT might have inflated some win-loss records?). Second, he ignored the fact that the South was very well-balanced…Last, Ben Hill knows precious LITTLE about Darren Bush ‘s baseball club.
And, later: Note to Ben Hill. Both Midland College and the University Of Texas Permian Basin (in Odessa, if that’s more convenient) offer excellent journalism courses. Perhaps a refresher is overdue.
Let me make clear that I am not upset by any of this in the least. But as this is the only blog material I have today, I’ll make a few observations:
— Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to have written this release BEFORE the RockHounds lost in the Finals?
— Rivalries are fun, and it’s always great when teams can feed off of bulletin board material. I would love to see front offices deliberately cultivate rivalries throughout the playoffs, antagonizing the opposing team in order to create greater fan interest.
Or, conversely, you can wait until after the playoffs and then attack a so-called “journalist” who had no interest in the outcome whatsoever.
— Midland RockHounds? More like Middlin’ RockHounds! Am I right or am I right?
— Finally, I write about Minor League Baseball year-round and go out of my way to make sure my readers can get in touch. If your team wants to go after me, then please let me know! I’m totally on board, and will do my best to promote your endeavors.
It’s fun to be insulted! Feel free to give me the what-for at any time and for any reason:
It’s a relatively slow time of year, and therefore my supply of blog-worthy material is at preternaturally low levels. But even in these times of famine I can still piece together a post, in much the same way my forefathers were able to piece together artisanal barrels out of tree bark, dried lily pads, and sap.
First and foremost, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that today is Veteran’s Day. Many teams have made a note of this fact via Twitter, Facebook, and website acknowledgments, but in particular I would like to highlight THIS COLUMN written by Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster Chris Mehring. Using Gary Bedingfield’s ‘Baseball in Wartime‘ website as a guide, Chris provides a interesting primer on the those who have suited up within both professional baseball and the armed forces. The column also includes a mention of Moe Berg, whose story is fascinating and always worth re-visiting.
— Moving on to the world of logos, the Midland RockHounds unveiled their 2010 Texas League All-Star Game insignia. Behold this most quintessentially American piece of pop art:
— Moving on, I would like to point out that the Buffalo Bisons are prominently featured in a new AT&T commercial. I am unable to embed this masterwork of persuasion into this blog, but check it out HERE on the team’s Facebook page.